Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Monopolies are clearly above the spirit of the law

Six months ago I entered into a 3-year contract with Bell Canada for mobile phone services. I had a plan through my employer I that although was expensive, was fair. I constantly feel that I’m overpaying for these services but as the world evolves, I shell out to keep up.

This month I took a closer look at the bill and realized that my base charge went up by $10/month and system access fees increased as well. They failed to write me a letter to notify me, or even a courtesy text message. My bill just went up. Last I heard, if one wants to change the terms of our agreement, I should be given a) notice, and b) an option to rescind. Bell Canada gave me neither. I am just supposed to accept this. If I were a rich woman, I would take them to court just out of principle. As it stands, they are the monopoly with lots of highly paid lawyers, and I’m just an average Joe that supposed to get my own Vaseline when they want to screw me.

Better Business Bureau is fine when you are going after fellow little people, but who listens when you want to take on the monopoly for breach of contract? I’m sure I will find in the fine print somewhere that prices subject to change without notice, but then what would be the point of signing a contract?

If you have an answer, let me know. Its not about the extra money I pay every month, this one is about principle.

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Hypocrisy is a word we don’t understand

Is it not hypocritical for a smoker to ask another smoker to butt out for the good of her child? Is not hypocritical for a gun owner to ask a neighbour not to keep a gun because of kids in the neighbourhood?
Then how is it not hypocritical for a uranium enriching country to ask another country to stop enriching uranium for the sake of world peace?
What morale authority does the U.S. have over Iran? How can I believe that this request is for the good of humanity when it is coming from the people sold weapons to Saddam Hussein; trained Osama Bin Laden; and illegally invaded and sovereign country? Forgive my cynicism but does anyone else question their good intentions?

Sure we can ask Iran to stop enriching uranium after we are ready to give up our nuclear reactors and the energy it supplies us with. We can go back to the coal fired generating plants of old and continue to pollute our atmosphere. Who has the right to tell Iran not to pursue technology? How did we become the moral authority for the rest of the world? Are they less entitled because their ideology happens not to match ours? I am not against the world disarming in general, but I feel that the west needs to be part of this disarmament otherwise we are no better than that hypocritical smoker. I want my cake and yours too.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Chaos and Anarchy

Isn’t it amazing how lights turn on when you flick the switch? Engines start when you turn the key? And how about the gas that flows when you squeeze the pump?

The Ontario blackout of 2003 brought out the best in a lot of people. I saw bikers directing traffic, motorists giving stranded commuters rides, and many other random acts of kindness. In retrospect, the acts of kindness weren’t really that random. It was people banding together in times of need. Despite all the good cheer, I also heard horror stories of people taking advantage of the situation. The local convenience store was selling water at $3 a bottle and gas prices went through the roof at the few places that had operating pumps. You can always count on someone to benefit in the free market.

That was losing only one of our energy sources and only for a few days. More recently, an oil refinery catches fire and petro supplies run low and look at the chaos in the streets of Toronto. One can hardly find gas anywhere in the city. There are mass queues at the few stations that still have gas and the atmosphere is hardly cordial.

For those of you who have read Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” you know I’m talking about but everyone else can imagine with me. How would Canadians react if our dependable and largely abundant energy supply disappeared? Would we still have a society civilized enough to stop at intersections and open doors for each other? Cars would stop running and lights would not work. How will we get food, or water (you can assume that municipal water supply will likely dry up as well)? Will ladies still be first or every man for himself? Would currency be worthless? Would governments collapse? Would chaos and anarchy take over?

Our infinite supply of cheap energy might not be so infinite. When it runs out, will our first world reality turn into the third world we only see on TV? It won’t take a comet falling from the sky or a nuclear war to usher in chaos and anarchy. Next time you are gassing up your SUV imagine what you would do if the gas stopped flowing and the lights stopped working. We need to wean ourselves off our high energy consuming lifestyles before the decision is made for us.

I’m going to go get gas now…

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Conveniently Green

As much as I support initiatives to protect the environment, it is very difficult to go Green. I find myself trying to cut back on energy use as much as I can, but getting through a Canadian winter is no small feat. Putting the onus of environmental protection on the consumer is far too onerous for the average person. It is absolutely paramount that our governments show leadership.

I would like to think that I am governed by my conscience, but I am also influenced by my wallet. I avoid idling my car whenever possible and I take transit whenever I can. However, it is hard to justify going downtown in a group and taking the subway at almost $5 each for a roundtrip when we can just hop into someone’s car. When there are three or four of us, it is certainly hard to shell out to go green (particularly when parking is free).

Recycling is a must in my house. I will even walk around for hours on end with an empty water bottle until I find a recycle bin. But, I have yet to find a way to get green bins into my condo. We have switched our laundry to cold water, but there’s little space to hang dry, so sadly we use our dryer. I’d like to buy organic, but industrial farming is so much cheaper. I’d like to bike to work in the summer and take the bus in the winter, but I would then need a shower at the office and an escort to get me past the dark stretch of highway to the bus stop. We have more infrastructure built for cars than we do for people.

I’d like to go green, but please help me. My lifestyle is akin to a nicotine addiction. It is so hard to let go of what I know is unhealthy. I go green conveniently and affordably. For now, it is much cheaper to pollute. I am looking for some leadership to help me get over my addiction, and I would like financial incentives to support me – not financial penalties that hinder me.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Environmental Fear Mongering

It seems that fear mongering is the largest blockade to doing what’s right for the environment. At a mutual fund manager’s presentation today, I asked how any potential changes to environmental laws would impact his stock picks. He bluntly predicted that the government would likely be too afraid to cause a potential economic collapse. In other words, he really didn’t care about the environment and anyone who does is responsible for the downfall of the Canadian economy.

He then went on about how cheap labour in China impacts our trading model. Canadian companies find it cheaper to cut our trees, ship the logs to China, have the Chinese make chairs, ship them back to Canada, and sell the chairs here. Investors don’t care about the social and environmental cost of this production model, but Canadians should.

Currently, polluting costs corporations nothing because we subsidize it as taxpayers. We pay for landfills, so it costs nothing to dispose of the packaging used for shipping. We pay for health care, so corporations do not see the full cost if emissions cause their employees respiratory illnesses. If we force corporations to pay the true costs of doing business, would it still be cheaper to ship the logs and the jobs overseas? Instead, we might be able to do the environment and our labour force a favour by keeping the process domestic.

Changes to environmental laws will not cripple our economy as pundits will have you believe. It will merely change the way we do business. Canadians were up in arms when we lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs to China. Now, it seems we are up in arms again about the possibility of those jobs coming back.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Who cared for 13 years?

Over the past day, numerous posts on websites have been made complaining about the Liberal hypocrisy over its inaction on the environment during their time in power. I want to point of a few things that perhaps the average Canadian may have forgotten in the 13 years we had of getting fat.

When the Mulroney Conservatives were in power, we had uncontrollable deficit spending that was crippling our economy. For the first time, Canadian sovereign bonds were downgraded from a AAA rating by Moody’s and we were the economic laughing stock of the industrialized world. Although there were some nice songs written about the environment, no one beyond school children really cared about saving the planet since the end of the acid rain crisis (which I do credit Mulroney’s leadership for controlling).

Chretien was preoccupied with saving our country which (also thanks to Mulroney) was on the verge of separating into two. It is funny how nobody actually cared about global warming which critics were still calling mad science at the time.

Fast forward 2 years when the budget was finally balanced, our country is whole, and our bellies are fed, we start whining about hospital wait times. David Anderson signs the Kyoto accord, Harper calls it a “socialist scheme”, and clearly our bellies are too fat because we have to start whining about equalization now.

When in the last 13 years did YOU (the voter) ever tell your MP that you cared about the environment? Stephane Dion was Environment Minister for 1.5 years during which Green House Gas growth rate slowed and he is accused of inaction? If it were not for his spectacular rise to power, the issue of the environment would not even be on the political radar. He doesn’t expect Harper to fix the issue overnight. He only wants a commitment that Canada will not stop trying.

If you are interested, here is my opinion of Kyoto. It hasn’t changed since I wrote this essay 2 years ago.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I don't recall voting for a police state

Bev Oda declared today that the Conservatives are here to stay because of its support for women’s rights. Somehow shutting down 12 of the 16 regional Status of Women Canada Offices is a show of support for women. Does she really think that we believe the government supports women rights?

This is our death by a thousand cuts. First we start off by shutting non-supportive media out of the press gallery, then we close advocacy offices to silent the dissident voices, now the latest is the appointment of judges based on ideology. It doesn’t take a lot to take democracy away.

So far we are building towards a society where women revert to their previous roles as second-class citizens with a judicial system built upon biblical theory. Perhaps this government sees too much progress that a Canadian town dares to ban the stoning of women.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine’s Day, Anti-Valentine’s Day… Only retailers win

Any store you walk into shortly after the New Year’s holiday, you will surely see a grand display of hearts of some sort. The displays look as if they are smiling at you knowingly -- that their sister display at Christmas likely emptied your wallet more than once. They mock you as if to say, “surely if you ‘truly’ loved someone you would buy a useless trinket to collect dust for your beloved.”

What would a girl do without a store-bought greeting card as a sign of affection? If it is true love it must cost money!?!?! The florist must smile at the suckers in their store once a year.

Even more cheesy is the anti-Valentine’s movement. People send nasty greeting cards to each other and buy gag gifts to mock this commercial festival of profit making. I wonder if they realize that they are still swiping their credit cards?

In a world overrun by consumer debt, I must pay tribute to the ever so clever retailers who can still fill the till over a bogus commercial holiday. Marketing gurus, you truly are a master over people.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Voter Apathy

Last week I was a scrutineer at a voting location in one of Ontario's 3 byelections. Although my one location falls well short of statistical accuracy, I was appalled at the low voter turnout. Each poll had only 10-20% of eligible voters cast their ballots.

I took it upon myself to brave the cold and canvass homes asking people to cast their ballots regardless of the party they support. Excuses ranged from the weather (mind you I was going door to door in this subzero temperature) to people telling me that they weren’t interested. “Interested?” I asked. It wasn’t as if I was peddling vacuum cleaners or saving souls. I was asking people to exercise their democratic rights. What angered me most were the non-voting immigrants to this country who fled from fascist dictatorships. They came seeking democracy yet they couldn’t be bothered to vote! I had to question myself on the purpose of their migration.

I cannot help but smile at the irony when politicians shout, “The people of Canada have spoken” when they see election victories. The people of Canada have said that they don’t care and the politicians are listening.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is Universal Health Care a Myth?

A friend of mine, whose 5-year-old son has a severe nut allergy, recently invited me over to dinner. On her counter sat some self-injectable epinephrine that her son had just outgrown by weight. The epinephrine had almost a year left to expiry and you could tell by the sealed packaging that they were never tampered with, yet she had a hard time convincing children’s hospitals or children’s shelters to accept them. At $100 each, not all parents could afford the peace of mind that the epinephrine provides.

I was aghast that such an essential drug cost so much. Should her son come into accidental contact with nuts, the epinephrine could literally save his life. Yet in our universal health care system, a life saving drug is something only the rich can afford. This led me to question the universality of our public system.

In my limited research, I found that in Ontario, we have options for low-income households to receive subsidized prescription drugs from the province. However, finding the information was complex and I had a hard time discerning what drugs do and don’t qualify for the program. I am led to believe that no matter how much we protest, our health care is multi-tiered. The rich (who tend to have jobs that pay benefits) can get their drugs covered, and where there are gaps in coverage, they tend to have enough education to go seek out complex government subsidies.

Information must be made more readily available and the Ontario Government should strive to close this gap in medical care.

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